Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Law enforcement officers have now officially been warned in a trade publication not to shoot family dogs.

Law enforcement officers have now officially been warned in a trade publication not to shoot family dogs.

James P. Gaffney recently wrote an article which appeared in the online magazine for police personnel called 'Law Enforcement Today'. In his article he told police officers to expect a lawsuit should they wrongfully kill a family dog while performing their job as an officer. Mr. Gaffney is highly qualified in these matters, as he served with a metro-New York police department for over 25 years as a patrol officer, sergeant, lieutenant and an executive officer. He also teaches university level criminal justice courses as an adjunct professor in the NYC area.

Gaffney wrote that police officer's need to realize that procedures within the law enforcement field change from time to time. What was acceptable behavior for an officer ten years ago may be considered entirely unethical in this period of time. This includes how the family dog is to be treated.

More and more family dogs are living as a member of the family. No longer confined to chains or tethers, most dogs these days enjoy the luxury of living, eating and sleeping inside with family members. For those with fenced in yards, this is merely a way to confine family dogs as they take potty breaks. In the old days, the fence meant safety for the dog. Unfortunately, that has changed with the new breed of officer, supposedly serving the public, who has the attitude to shoot the dog first and ask questions later. The new status quo these days is when an officer kills a family dog, they have in effect robbed that family of the years left with what many dog owners consider another "child."

Police departments nationwide advise their officers to take whatever measures are necessary to keep themselves safe when facing down a dog. In most of the dog shootings that take place today, the officer involved is sorely lacking in both common sense and compassion. Whenever a dog is seen inside a fence, the first thing an officer should do is to use the brain (some police officers still have one of these) and remember a stranger on the property could provoke the dog into barking, snarling, and yes, even attacking. This does not give the officer a free pass to shoot the dog before coming onto the property. Especially if the person living there hasn't committed a felony.

Police officers are also cautioned to use objective reasonableness based on the circumstances at the time they arrive on scene. This means an officer should think through a situation before it gets out of hand and act accordingly. If a dog is behind a fence and may pose a danger, it's common sense not to open the fence. Too many dogs are killed and 20/20 hindsight used to try and explain their actions. Was deadly force REALLY necessary? Most times the answer is no.

The Fourth Amendment has now been used in court to back up this logic. The family dog is now considered property, which cannot be seized without cause. It gives people rights against a search and seizure by police without probable cause. Since a large majority of these cases involve police being at the wrong address to start with, perhaps a good GPS system would also prevent many of these tragic shootings.

An easily understood explanation of the Fourth Amendment states that the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated. The federal courts recognize a dog, or canine companion, as an effect. This means an officer should not shoot a dog coming over to say hello. He should also refrain from chasing the dog onto another property in order to kill it, or from shooting the dog as it retreats.

Laura Scarry is a Chicago based attorney who represents police officers accused of state and federal civil rights violations. Last month she spoke at a seminar for International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), where she advised those officer's attending of the family member status dogs now share in most households.

The precedent in place that many dog defender attorneys use is a result of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in the case of Fuller v Vines, 36 F.3d 65,68 (9th Cir. 1994). In simple language, the officer shooting the dog constituted a violation of the dog owner's civil rights based on the part of the Fourth Amendment that deals with search and seizure. At least three federal circuit court decisions have found an officer guilty of violating this amendment when the officer killed the family dog.

To police officers who may be reading this article, in simple language it means dogs are now considered protected under the Fourth Amendment. If you shoot a family dog, the family will likely sue you, your police department and your city. Combine this with the change in perception by the courts, a guilty verdict is highly likely. A few officer's have been charged with animal cruelty for acting irresponsibly. Many times this shows not only a lack of common sense, but also an officer who shows no compassion while performing his duties.

This also means a police department internal investigation may find an officer guilty of a civil rights violation. With the number of lawsuits being filed, more and more officer's who take it upon themselves to kill the family dog will be personally held liable for their actions. Police officers will likely find themselves under arrest for animal cruelty in the near future, should they act without very strong cause to kill an innocent dog.

Please circulate this article among dog owning friends, as well as any police personnel who need a bit of training as to how to treat a family dog while on the dogs property."


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